In a weekend that featured three games between teams ranked in the AP Top 10, college football did not disappoint. Sure, Washington obliterated Stanford on Friday night, (and yeah, Michigan and Wisconsin played a 1950s football game, which was probably not that enjoyable to non-Michigan fans) but there still was a lot to like. Louisville vs. Clemson was an instant classic and there were several games with insane finishes – UNC’s booming field goal to win at the buzzer in Tallahassee; Tennessee’s Josh Dobbs’s Hail Mary capped a ridiculous last minute in a win over Georgia; Indiana won the Old Brass Spittoon for the first time in forever when the Hoosiers upset Michigan State in overtime.
The playoff picture was clarified a little bit this week. Clemson’s now in the driver’s seat to grab a bid out of the ACC, and Louisville – even in a loss – helped sow the seeds of a compelling case to be the first non-conference champ to steal a playoff bid. Washington aced its first test with flying colors and, as the clear Pac-12 frontrunner, looks to be solidly in the picture. Michigan won what could very well be the second-toughest game on its schedule; of course, the winner of the Michigan – Ohio State seems very well-positioned to make it in.
--- CLEMSON and LOUISVILLE turned in what might wind up being the best game of the season. The quarterback battle between Deshaun Watson and Lamar Jackson – who could easily be argued as the two best quarterbacks in all of college football – was as good as advertised: Watson accounted for 396 yards and threw for five touchdowns, Jackson had 457 yards of total offense and had three touchdowns, one through the air and two on the ground. It was a sloppy game as the two teams combined for eight turnovers, and Watson was responsible for four of them. After a scoreless first quarter, Watson caught fire in the second quarter and Clemson entered halftime up 28-10. Louisville then scored 26 unanswered points to take a lead, but two touchdowns from the Tigers got them the 42-36 win. The game ended as a pass from Jackson to WR James Quick short of the sticks wound up with Quick going out of bounds short of the yard to gain deep in the red zone. Louisville acquitted themselves well in defeat and Jackson should still be considered the Heisman frontrunner (for how little that really matters), but Clemson has assuaged any concerns from a slow start and look to be a decent bet to win the ACC at this point.
[more on the week that was after the JUMP]
If you watch the video at the bottom of the post, you’ll see very quickly that third-down plays had not gone all that well for Michigan to this point in the game. Now, facing another third-and-long in the middle of the fourth quarter, Michigan was faced with another convert-or-punt situation should they choose to pass. Michigan went five wide and spread Wisconsin’s defense just thin enough for Speight to both have time to throw and to get the matchup he was looking for to his left. I started describing to Wilton the purpose of these posts, and as soon as I mentioned which play I wanted to talk about he was ready:
“That was probably the biggest play of the game, bigger than that touchdown throw, because that set that up. We hadn’t been as successful as we’d like to on third downs, but motioned out the running back and bumped the linebackers out a little bit, and I knew I was going to my left. Didn’t know if I was going to the inside or outside slant, but their linebacker dropped underneath the inside slant and I just ripped the ball to Darboh and he plucked it with his fingertips and dove with it for the first down. That was big time.”
What do you remember about their alignment before the snap?
“Yeah, I knew to not judge anything until our running back, De’Veon, motioned out. As soon as he motioned out, I kind of saw them bump and adjust exactly how we wanted to, so that’s right when I knew I was going to work the boundary. My eyes kind of lit up and I ripped it in there.”
On that topic, once you move De’Veon out, you see a safety comes down to cover Grant Perry, you’ve got Cichy split out wide, do your reads change based on those matchups, or do you have a very rigid progression you’re working through?
“Well, presnap when De’Veon went out there I said, ‘Okay, I’m going to my left. I’m going to work these two guys.’ Then it was just the progression. I start with the inside slant, and if that gets taken away I go to my outside slant. Darboh ran an incredible route, got spacing off of the corner, and made a play.”
As far as breaking down a defense, as soon as you see they’ve set, do you have a way you do that every time? Has Coach Harbaugh taught you to work through a certain way, like first read safeties, then linebackers, etc.?
“Yeah, yeah. Harbaugh and Fisch teach me that it’s a three to five second max of decision-making of what’s the front, where are the linebackers, what’s the secondary doing, are the corners over, is it one high, is it two high, are the linebackers cheating up, does it look like they’re blitzing, where’s the shade, stuff like that. So there’s a lot that goes through on a presnap, and it helps, though, when you know what’s going on.”
What do you remember seeing immediately after the snap? Was it the off coverage on Darboh?
“Yeah, off coverage on Darboh. I immediately saw someone sink underneath the inside slant, but I knew that window was going to be open on the outside slant. Yeah, it was a good play.”
It looked like a perfectly placed ball. On a five-yard slant like that, walk me through where a perfectly placed ball would be in terms of what the receiver wants and what you want.
“A little bit out in front, depending on where the corner or the defender is. If he’s right on his back, you like to put it right in his gut, right on his numbers. It’s a chest throw so the corner or the defender can’t get around it. He had a little bit of space so I wanted to lead him, and he likes catching things with his hands, so just let him do that.”
News bullets and other items:
Grant Newsome is done for the year. Harbaugh wasn’t sure whether it was a career-threatening injury; it’s too early to tell.
Bushell-Beatty at LT is probably happening, but Harbaugh said Cole and Braden could move there.
If Cole moves back to LT, Kugler will be the center.
Karan Higdon’s lack of carries was not due to injury
Quinn Nordin’s been healing and might be a part of the kicking competition this week; it’s too early to tell as they haven’t practiced yet this week
Seemed like Kyle [Kalis] really brought some intensity Saturday. Can you talk about how he played?
“Yeah, Kyle always brings intensity. Kyle Kalis?”
“Yeah, always. Practice, games, weight room, meetings.”
Was that one of the better games you’ve seen him play this year?
“Yeah. I thought he played extremely well. He’s been doing that consistently good his entire career here at Michigan. Strong. He’s strong. Kalis Strong.”
How important is it to win games differently? You’ve won with offense, you’ve won with special teams, Saturday you win defensively. How important is that in the coaches’ room?
“I don’t know exactly how much or how important. There’s an importance to winning, importance in being successful, winning on gameday. To your specific question, how important, I don’t have the answer to that.”
Did you get specific news on Grant Newsome and whether he’s going to be done for the year or not?
“Yeah. Yeah, he had a serious knee injury and he’ll be out for the year. It’ll be a tough couple weeks for him. It’s a reminder of just how tough the game of football is, just how serious injuries can be in the game of football.
“What I do know is, as far as character, human being character, football character, nobody’s ever come through here, this football team or this university, that I know of with more of it than Grant Newsome. Leon and Kim Newsome, they should write a book on raising kids. Grant is the finest, and just praying for him right now. It’s not a good feeling today at all. But just being with him at the hospital, everybody’s he’s come in contact with, nurses and doctors, it’s ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ It’s amazing. He is an amazing, amazing young man.
“And he’s strong as they come, and I know that all things are possible with Grant Newsome. But keep him in your prayers, as he is in ours. It’s going to be—got some things to work through right now, but he’s handling it like a champ. I know he’s got pain, but he’s…watching him up there, he’s as tough as a two-dollar steak. It’s unbelievable.”
[Hit THE JUMP like Wisconsin’s linebackers hit their run-throughs]
A Wall Worth Building
Michigan hosted a huge group of official visitors for the win over Wisconsin, and coming out of the weekend it sounds like they've made some serious progress recruiting for the offensive line.
The visitor most expected to eventually end up in the class was four-star IMG OC Cesar Ruiz. That impression didn't change a bit after the visit. Ruiz told The Wolverine's Brandon Brown that getting to spend time with a few recruits he's befriended during the process—Jedrick Wills, Alex Leatherwood, and Baron Browning—as well as the crew of fellow New Jersey natives on the team put Michigan in a different league from his other recent official visit:
"That made the visit ten times better for me," he said. "That’s what really separated it from my North Carolina visit last week. Jonah Melton is a really cool dude but I didn’t know him previously. Since I knew all of these dudes at Michigan previously we just decided to go have fun. We really enjoyed our time."
Florida and Oklahoma are the two official visits left on his itinerary. He made it sound like the Wolverines will be hard to catch:
"Michigan is in a good spot," he said with a chuckle. "We are going to leave it at that but yes, Michigan is in a good spot right now."
While Ruiz's warm reception to M's recruiting pitch didn't come as a surprise, the reaction five-star FL OT Alex Leatherwood, an Alabama commit, gave to TomVH was an eye-opener:
Leatherwood is still committed to Alabama but is exploring his options. His time spent in Ann Arbor seemed to have a big impact on his recruitment.
"Phenomenal, unreal atmosphere," Leatherwood said. "Changed [my recruitment] big time. My dad loves it here."
Leatherwood had similar comments to Scout's SEC-country analyst, Chad Simmons:
"To be honest, Michigan is making me think about my commitment to Alabama. My dad even likes them a lot. We're gonna do some very deep thinking on this.
"I can't really explain the feeling I have at Michigan -- I just like it a lot."
Sam Webb mentioned Leatherwood's father had been skeptical about the program entering the trip and ended up wearing Michigan gear on the visit; the repeated mentions that he enjoyed his time there could be as meaningful as the impression made on his son.
247's Steve Wiltfong got a quick visit reaction from four-star TX OT Chuck Filiaga:
"It was a great visit," Filiaga told 247Sports. "From the game, the crowd, the coaches, the players, they all make it something special! Michigan truly does have a great set up for its program."
Finally, four-star KY OT Jedrick Wills hasn't gone on the record about his visit yet, but a look at his Twitter page indicates it went quite well, too.
Michigan in in the driver's seat for Ruiz and may have moved to the top of the list for Filiaga, as well. Leatherwood and Wills are probably longer shots—especially Wills, who's expected to end up at Alabama—but it's clear the Wolverines made a strong impression on both of them.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the roundup.]
10/1/2016 – Michigan 14, Wisconsin 7 – 5-0, 2-0 Big Ten
I was scared once.
Let's dispense with the I ain't scurrred talk: football is terrifying and brings you to your knees and you can either admit this to yourself or embark on a life of chest-puffing Brandon stuff. Michigan hadn't won a game against a top ten team in 12 tries. When they're tied deep into the second half after spurning a pile of opportunities to make it a contest that's only kinda-sorta competitive you're goddamn right the idea they'd lose a game to a team that might as well have started drives on third and eight was bowel-shaking.
Anyway. Channing Stribling fell over and Alex Hornibrook heaved the ball at his receiver. It seemed long from the get go and turned out to be long, but you never know. As that mortar arched back towards earth my annoyance momentarily morphed into terror, because this was the kind of game where 7-7 is a war and 14-7 is a surrender. That ball clanged harmlessly to the turf. Wilton Speight's deep shot to Amara Darboh did not.
Hornibrook negotiated terms shortly thereafter, and hello it is October and it's hard to see a loss on Michigan's schedule until what's looking a lot like Football Armageddon II. Bill Connelly's fancystats have Michigan a two-touchdown favorite in every game before The Game, and it's not hard to see Vegas issuing double-digit spreads until then. This is the elite team it is supposed to be, even if someone needs to hit the field goal kickers with a frying pan until they remember to put it through the uprights.
This is because of the defense. Many expectations were piled upon it this offseason, and all have thus far been redeemed. You've seen it with your personal sensory organs. I have as well. I have seen other defenses, many of them, and the sense of serene calm when Michigan punts has only been matched by 1997 and 2006 in my experience. Michigan passes the eye test. They pass the scouting test. PFF has seven different Michigan DL with 100 snaps charted and a grade of 75 or above, which is bonkers.
And they pass the computer test. As of today Michigan is the #1 defense in S&P+ by a furlong and a half:
The gap between them and #2 Florida is bigger than the gap between Florida and #10 Washington. They are first or second in any capacity you'd like to name, and complaints about schedule strength start to ring hollow when Colorado is lighting up everyone they come across with a backup quarterback who netted –4 yards against Michigan and Wisconsin ends up with half the yards they did against LSU or MSU.
Michigan's supposed weakness on defense isn't one, and everything else is coming in at or above expectations. People used to say things like "punting is winning" and mean them as something other than shots at Kirk Ferentz. That's because football used to look a lot like Saturday's game: trench warfare punctuated with one or two seismic moments. I have an old feeling, and a good feeling, about this football team.
With Iowa playing competitive games against Rutgers and Indiana going toe-to-toe with Michigan State, thoughts inevitably turn to the roadblock at the end of the season. The team has to take things one game at a time. I don't. I can take them six or twenty at a time. I can know the names of a couple of large men in the 2019 class at Belleville, because it's never too early to think about 2023.
So. This defense and the great roadblock. One of those previous defenses had a fatal flaw. One did not. The 2006 defense had one and a half excellent cornerbacks and no nickel package. Leon Hall would go on to a long NFL career. Morgan Trent had a cup of coffee in the league. Michigan went up against an OSU spread offense with Chris Graham as their spacebacker. This was part poor roster construction and part horrendous gameplanning; Michigan was put to the sword by Troy Smith.
You'd think that's in the past now, but just last year a good, if depleted, Michigan defense entered the OSU game with a plan to do the exact same thing they'd done the rest of the year and got ripped for 300 yards on the ground, yet again. The failures linger and give you pause when you project down the road, especially since this does not seem like a rebuilding year for the Great Satan. Worry, worry, worry.
Still, Jabrill Peppers is not Chris Graham. Michigan just crushed a manball team without taking their 210 pound linebacker-type substance off the field. They are not running a defense that tells you which guy is not going to play the run presnap. They have survived the first five games with a just couple of injury scares on the defensive line. I am thinking Michigan might be able to punt a lot and win, even down in Columbus.
Known Friends And Trusted Agents Of The Week
you're the man now, dog
#1 Ryan Glasgow forced Channing Stribling's second interception by hitting Hornibrook as he threw and spent the rest of the day tossing UW's poor center to the ground, whether it was run or pass. He didn't rack up many counting stats because of the nature of the Badger offense but he's in line for a big-ass UFR grade.
#2 Kyle Kalis was a pile-mover in a game that needed to move many piles. Michigan's run game was decidedly right-handed in this one, and Kalis didn't have the protection issues Magnuson did. The repeated zone reads with Peppers were an impressive demonstration of Michigan's ability to shoot a very good defense off the ball.
#3 Jourdan Lewis was only targeted twice. One was incomplete. One has been photoshopped into a nouveau Jumpman logo. In addition to those two incidents, Lewis had two excellent plays in run defense that shut down Wisconsin attempts to get to the edge.
Honorable mention: uh, everyone on defense. Amara Darboh was the main target on Michigan's second touchdown drive.
5: Jabrill Peppers(T2, Hawaii; #3 UCF, #1 Colorado), Ryan Glasgow(#2 UCF, #1 UW).
3: Mike McCray(#1, Hawaii), Wilton Speight (#1 UCF).
2: Jake Butt(#2 Colorado), Ben Gedeon(#3 Colorado, #3 PSU), Kyle Kalis (#2 UW).
1: Delano Hill (T2, Hawaii), Chris Evans (T3, Hawaii, four-way T2, PSU), Chris Wormley (three-way T1, PSU), Maurice Hurst (three-way T1, PSU), Taco Charlton(three-way T1, PSU), Jourdan Lewis (#3 UW).
0.5: Mason Cole(T3, Hawaii), De'Veon Smith (four-way T2, PSU), Ty Isaac (four-way T2, PSU), Karan Higdon(four-way T2, PSU).
Who's Got It Better Than Us Of The Week
This week's best thing ever.
Speight bombs one over the top to Darboh for the winning points.
Honorable mention: The Lewis interception.
Hawaii: Laughter-inducing Peppers punt return.
UCF: Speight opens his Rex Grossman account.
Colorado: Peppers cashes it in.
PSU: Wormley's sack establishes a theme.
UW: Darboh puts Michigan ahead for good.
MARCUS HALL EPIC DOUBLE BIRD OF THE WEEK.
This week's worst thing ever.
For the second consecutive week this is a key piece being knocked out, probably for the season. Grant Newsome took a cut from a defensive back that resulted in a knee injury "as serious as a knee injury can be" and Michigan has to find out what they've got behind him now.
Honorable mention: Wisconsin scores an actual touchdown; any of three different makeable field goals go awry; Speight gets picked off; Michigan takes 34 consecutive penalties on special teams.
PREVIOUS EPIC DOUBLE BIRDs
Hawaii: Not Mone again.
UCF: Uh, Dymonte, you may want to either tackle or at least lightly brush that guy.
Colorado: Speight blindsided.
PSU: Clark's noncontact ACL injury.
UW: Newsome joins the ranks of the injured.
[After THE JUMP: one bushel of beets please]
Ryan Glasgow and Amara Darboh
Can you talk about how the defensive performance today gave you the opportunity as an offense, particularly, to provide the end result?
AD: “Yeah, from the offensive standpoint, the defense kept getting three and outs and then kept helping us stay in the game. They didn’t let them score all half, so that gave us the opportunity to make a play at the end.”
Talk about the placement on the long touchdown pass.
AD: “Oh yeah, it was perfect. It was one-on-one coverage out there. The safety was in the middle, then I got inside my guy and Wilton put a perfect ball and I just had to run underneath it.”
This was your guys’ first true test of the season; this was the first time you guys played an opponent many people considered a contender in the Big Ten and also nationally. What does this win mean for you personally moving forward? How does your team improve from here?
AD: “I think it says a lot about our team. Wisconsin’s a very tough football team—very good defense, very good offense—and I think us beating this team says a lot about our character. It says a lot about the players on our team, but we need to focus on the games ahead, because this win doesn’t define our season.”
Ryan, it seemed like they were playing to get the ball back to the defense to win it. Was that kind of the message, it was your guys’ time to win the game?
“Regardless of what the offense does, we don’t want any other offense we’re playing to get a yard, get a first down, get a touchdown. So, regardless of what the offense does, we expect to win every game. We had a seven-point lead, which we think that’s enough for us to win a game on defense. Regardless of how many points they score, we feel like should win the game on defense.”
[Hit THE JUMP for more]